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THEATER REVIEW: “Beau Jest” is a winner for Avo Playhouse

Sarah (Dana Fares) has a problem. She’s been dating advertising account executive Chris (Adam Oliveras) for months, and parents Miriam (Jill Drexler) and Abe (Eric Poppick) want to meet him.

So what’s the problem? He’s not Jewish. In fact, his last name is Cringle (get it?) and he’s about as WASP as they come.

The solution? A beau geste: She’ll get a stand-in from rent-a-boyfriend.

The escort service sends Bob (Randall Dodge), tall, handsome and – as Sarah finds out minutes before the parents arrive for dinner – also not Jewish.

“Oh, my god,” she dithers. “I’m going to die. They’ll find my body.”

Fortunately, Bob is an actor: “I took classes at Second City.” (As it happens, Sherman also taught classes there.)

Sarah has conveniently invented a name for Bob – David Steinberg – but forgets to mention his profession – surgeon.

Sarah’s brother Joel (Cris O’Bryon) arrives first. Joel, a divorced father of two, is a psychotherapist and almost immediately suspicious of this “doctor” whose response to a question about what kind of surgery he does is “Whatever comes up. Hearts. Brains.”

But Bob/David is charming and quick on the draw and wows the family with a seder prayer (he once played Perchik in “Fiddler on the Roof”).

A few (amusing) family seders later, it’s clear that the charade cannot continue much longer. It’s also clear where this farce is headed, but that’s all right: in this case, getting there is all the fun.

And “getting there” also means coming to terms with the serious point to be made: the child’s responsibility to pursue his own dream, independent of the parents’ aspirations.

James Sherman’s “Beau Jest” plays through April 8 at the Avo Playhouse. Christopher M. Williams directs.

Director Christopher M. Williams has a sterling cast, who manage to tiptoe up to without crossing the fine line between parody and stereotype. Newcomer (and MiraCosta student) Fares is cute and bright if overly fearful about Mom’s response to her choice in boyfriends.

Dodge is a pleasure to watch as the improv expert who ingratiates himself in surprising ways with a family not at all like his own.

Everybody knows someone like Drexler’s overbearing Miriam – and someone like Poppick’s sardonic Abe, both delicious characterizations given to clever ripostes and recurring lines like “For an hour we looked for a parking space.”

O’Bryon is as convincing a Joel as one could be, given that the script leaves it to the third act before he calls the hospital in search of information about “Dr. Steinberg.” And MiraCosta student Adam Oliveras does a good job with the short end of the casting stick: the colorless character of Chris.

“Beau Jest” is not high drama or even high comedy. It’s family comedy, maybe even a sitcom, with characters you’ll recognize in a crazy situation. It opened off-Broadway in 1989, where it ran for two and a half years.

Williams keeps it moving, M. Dixon Fish’s set is fine and so are Garrett Wysocki’s sound design, Paul A. Canaletti’s lighting and the costumes by Roslyn Lehman and Renetta Lloyd.

The details

“Beau Jest” plays through April 8 at Avo Playhouse, 300 Main St., Vista.

Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 pm; matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm.

For tickets, call (760) 724-2110 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.